The Farewell Party
High drama and lowbrow, morbid humor get stitched together in this successful tragicomedy about terminal patients and assisted suicide. Works better than expected.
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"The Magic of Belle Isle" (109 minutes) is available via iTunes, Amazon, Comcast, DirecTV, VUDU and other outlets. A limited theatrical release begins July 1.
Rob Reiner's "The Magic of Belle Isle" is an Easy Button of a film, as generic and conventional as its title. If you ever wondered what a Hallmark Channel original movie would be like if you threw some A-list talent at it -- namely Morgan Freeman and Virginia Madsen instead of, say, Jeffrey Nordling and Kristy Swanson -- here's your answer.
Freeman stars as Monte Wildhorn, an alcoholic in a wheelchair and "writer (of westerns) nobody reads." His books, once popular, are now out of print. Monte's nephew (Keenan Thompson) deposits him in the idyllic lakeside town of Belle Isle to housesit. Nephew's ulterior motive, of course, is that he will be inspired to stop drinking and start writing again, but the embittered Monte is a hard case. "Toss it in the garbage," he says of his typewriter. "She's a black-hearted whore, and I'm done with her."
So what will it take to turn this curmudgeon into a softie? Guy Thomas' simplistic script leaves nothing to chance. How about saddling Monte with a lazy old dog named Ringo (yes, Ringo) that has a penchant for licking itself? No? Well then, how about introducing a single mother (Madsen) who is going through a divorce with three -- count 'em -- daughters: one adorable, one precocious, and one sullen? Still not enough? Well then how about adding to the mix a mentally challenged boy who hops around the neighborhood and whom Monte takes under his wing as his "sidekick?"
"What would I give if I could live / Out of these waters? / What would I pay just for one day / Warm on the sand? / Betcha on land, they understand / Bet they don't reprimand their daughters / Bright young women, sick o' swimmin' / Ready to stand!"
"Part of Their World" by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, from "The Little Mermaid" (John Musker and Ron Clements, 1989).